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"Empire's" Misguided Politicization

by jheanelle brown

Whereas Bill Cosby constantly depoliticized "The Cosby Show" as colorblind, Lee Daniels is politicizing "Empire", but in a slightly different way. He has stated: “Homophobia is rampant in the African American community, and men are on the DL," he said. "They don’t come out, because your priest says, your pastor says, mama says, your next-door neighbor says, your homie says, your brother says, your boss says [that homosexuality is wrong]. And they are killing African American women. They are killing our women. So I wanted to blow the lid off more on homophobia in my community.” (Television Critics Association Press Tour). Daniels is invoking the “save our women” card, which dovetails with the notion that non-white, female-identified bodies are sites for political, social, and cultural contestation. (Esposito 525)

Empire perpetuates the racist stereotype that the Black community is monolithically homophobic. Initially, before he comes out, Jamal’s queerness is really only openly and explicitly accepted by his mother Cookie (which can be easily brushed off as a Mother's unconditional love) and his friend Becky (who is also Lucious’ assistant), who herself is a marginalized body because of her weight. Jamal eventually comes out in episode 9, “The Lyon’s Roar.” Lucious hires a director to make a documentary about Empire. Said documentarian, Ryan, is a gay Black Australian man. He and Jamal bond, with Ryan sharing his coming out story. He jokingly says about his father, “He loves that his son’s a sissy.” And later “The joys of being the son of a Black man,” with Jamal laughing in agreement. Not only does it seem, are African Americans represented as uniformly homophobic, so is the entire Black Diaspora. This is all the more troubling when one considers that Lee Daniels created the show with Danny Strong, and that the show's show runner is Ilene Chaiken, both White. Saturday Night Live lampoons Empire’s uninformed self-righteousness in the uploaded clip.

Empire is being positioned (and positioning itself) as the savior for solving the Black people are homophobic problem. Because of TV’s pop cultural dominance and weekly new episodes, it can dominate conversations and push out other voices. (What does it say that the show is on Fox? With its racist news and racist, corrupt, blood-thirsty News Corp CEO Rubert Murdoch?) It may be too early to tell, but the show is breaking 20-year ratings records, so it's potential cultural influence should be taken seriously.

"Empire's" Misguided Politicization

A very short clip from Saturday Night Live's longer sendup of the new hit Fox show, "Empire." This 9 second clip spoofs what the show posits is completely incongruous: a Black queer man in the world of Hip Hop/R&B.

from Saturday Night Live Season 40, Episode 15 (2015)
Creator: SNL
Distributor: Youtube
Posted by jheanelle brown